Fergus Ewing turns up the heat on dualling – 'will they show that they care for he Highlands?'
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Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing is maintaining pressure on the Scottish Government over dualling of both the A9 and the A96 by presenting what amounts to a new baseline set of demands.
His nine-point motion submitted at Holyrood that he hopes will be selected for debate, is provoked by frustration that neither transport secretary Mairi McAllan nor transport minister Fiona Hyslop has yet stood up in parliament to deliver the long-awaited statement on both projects which had been promised this autumn.
Fears are mounting the projects could be hit by the same kind of cutbacks that have already been announced for Scottish Ferries investment – delayed by a year to save £40 million – and proposed reductions to the public sector workforce.
There are concerns too that the dualling of the Inverness-Auldearn section of the A96, including the Nairn Bypass, has fallen badly by the wayside since Jenny Gilruth, then transport minister, told parliament in November 2022 that progress was expected within “weeks”.
Mr Ewing hopes his motion to the Scottish Parliament will ensure the A9 and A96 remain firmly on the political agenda, reminding the government of the promises it has made to the people of the Highlands.
Key demands in the motion include:
- Setting a new deadline for completing A9 dualling between Perth and Inverness
- A time schedule setting out when each section will be dualled
- Placing all four of the sections which have been “shovel ready” for the last two years into procurement immediately
- Confirming the capital budget shall be used and that there should be a continuous, uninterrupted flow of work between now and completion
- Setting up a new programme board chaired by the transport minister but including MSPs and senior councillors from Highland and Perth and Kinross Councils to ensure that there is no further “feet dragging” – by being accountable, and reporting regularly to the public.
Additionally Mr Ewing’s motion calls for the government to announce the construction of dualling from the Smithton to Auldearn section of the A96, including the Nairn Bypass, with a timeline for completion, with this project to enter the formal procurement process immediately.
Mr Ewing said: “The Scottish Government have promised that a full statement of their plans to dual the A9 will be made ‘this autumn’.
“But I am worried that when it is eventually made it will be insufficient.
“Therefore, to exert maximum pressure I have set out in a motion lodged in Holyrood for debate on what I believe should be contained in this statement.
“My fear is that the Scottish Government announcement will be ‘thin gruel’ announcing only the shortlist for the invitation to tender stage of the Tomatin to Moy Section and vague plans to use ‘kilt bonds’ to finance the rest at some unspecified date.
“In addition, it’s essential that the first section of the A96 be dualled: from Inverness to Auldearn including the Nairn bypass.
“This would show people in Nairn they are not the Cinderella of the road spend ball.
“It would also be of practical benefit. It would ‘spread’ the disruption inevitably caused by road works over the wider road network, not solely on the A9.
“I work with the other main parties behind the scenes, and understand that the Tory, Liberal and Labour parties are set to support my motion for debate.
“I only need the support of the SNP business manager, George Adam, and am urging him to enable this to be debated as soon as possible.
“The Scottish Government say they are under real financial pressure this year.
“That is not relevant to the A9 at all, because the main spending will not be this year but in the future years over the rest of this decade.
“Moreover, the capital budget is five thousand million pounds each year and so there is more than enough money to do the work over a period of years. So pleading poverty would be a total smokescreen.
“The questions are: will the Scottish Government support the Highlands and undo the damage of broken promises?
“Will they show that they care for he Highlands?
“Will they implement the ‘cast-iron guarantee’ the First Minister gave? Will they at long last devote real money for the Highlands as opposed to the central belt?”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and work is continuing across the route. Parliament will be updated on the programme for completing the remaining sections in the coming weeks.
“Over £450 million has been spent to date on the dualling of the A9. This includes spend on preparatory work for all of the individual projects, as well as spend on land acquisition, construction of the two projects that have been completed to date, Kincraig to Dalraddy and Luncarty to Pass of Birnam, and advance works for future projects. The procurement for the dualling of the A9 between Tomatin to Moy is also underway. Following an extensive market consultation exercise, the new contract uses a different contract form – one that is preferred by contractors and used widely across the UK. It is anticipated that this contract will be awarded in early Summer 2024 and the project is expected to take around three years to build.
“As the First Minister confirmed during the statement to Parliament on the Programme for Government on 5 September, the Scottish Government is also committed to making improvements to the A96 and is undertaking a transparent, evidence-based review of the programme. Following publication of the initial appraisal report and the accompanying consultation report at the end of last year, we continue to push forward the necessary detailed work to inform the remaining stages of the review.
"These include a robust appraisal of the retained options alongside a Climate Compatibility Assessment and also a range of statutory assessments, with outcomes from this expected to be ready in the coming months for final public consultation, before a final decision can be reached."